Monday 16 December 2013

Slavery, trafficking and a bit of psychology


You may recall that some time ago I got interested in the way the Press were handling the break up of a group who had been living in a Maoist commune in Brixton, South London. The story was launched by a charity and the Police, who had not yet interviewed the women who had walked out of the commune house. Despite this, the explanatory framework was that these were modern day slaves. I expressed mild surprise at this construction, and mentioned somewhat tentatively that it might have been seen in that way because of an upcoming Bill in Parliament, the draft Modern Slavery Bill which aims to increase the maximum custodial sentence for offenders from 14 years to life.

Today two radio programs rang up wanting a comment from me, because of my knowledge of trauma reactions. I explained that I was not an expert on the topic of trafficking, but they wanted an interview nonetheless, and I did my best to answer their questions, while listening beforehand to proponents and campaigners laying out their case for the new Bill.

By way of background, the UK press have decided to back Mr Frank Field, MP’s estimate that there are 10,000 victims of slavery in the UK.

The Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The honest position is that we don't know whether that is the right figure, or whether there are fewer or indeed more victims in the UK.

"What we do know is that we have seen more referrals to what is called the national referral mechanism, where people are able to refer people who they think have been trafficked, who they think are the victims of modern slavery, into a central mechanism.

"The number of referrals has been increasing, and it's on that basis that we believe that we have seen an increase in this absolutely horrendous and appalling crime."

It seems there were 1,186 cases last year. I will leave aside the methodological issues of capture/recapture estimation, and take these as confirmed cases, providing a minimum figure.

My only psychological contribution was to say that it is very hard indeed to commence therapy until the person has reached a place of safety. If the abused person has a family at risk in their home country, I do not see how the British Police can provide a believable guarantee that the trafficking gangs will not attack those family members. As a rule of thumb, the British Police have considerable difficulty saving battered wives from violent husbands. Charities have also observed, kindly and without criticism, that trafficking allegations often arise when the person concerned has been arrested for a crime. The arrested persons explain that these crimes were committed at the behest of their traffickers. Some of the above cases will involve claim and counter-claim, as part of court cases.

I do not have first hand knowledge of the extent of the problem, nor of the steps which would be required, internationally, to deal with it. Psychological therapy will have to work within that framework, but I do not think that it will be the first thing on victim’s minds, compared with other issues.

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